My Ghanaian compatriots recently demonstrated democratic maturity when they peaceably transferred power from one administration to another for the fifth time. This is the nation’s fourth republic. Nana Akuffo-Addo Dankwa, the new President-elect has promised to industrialize the country. His industrialization project includes building two factories in each of the country’s ten regions. Great as this sounds conceptually, I can already identify three challenges that will make the implementation of his project a tedious one.
Public? Private? Both?
There are three possible paths to realizing the goal of industrializing Ghana: government-run, privately-run or government-private partnerships.
For government-run factories, the biggest challenge will be resolving not to repeat the mistakes of the past. For instance, Kwame Nkrumah, our first president, built several factories in the early years of our nation’s birth. Many, if not all, are now defunct. I will address some of what I believe are the causal factors that led to failures of these industries in a moment. It suffices to say now that we must approach this path meticulously by addressing the systemic mistakes of the past.
If we should opt to follow the privately-run business route, we must keep in mind that investors look at returns on investments as the primary and often singular incentive. Can we clairvoyantly predict they will build two factories in each region as promised?
I doubt it.
Secondly, what would be the ground rules? Would foreign and local investors be subjecting their companies to a laissez-faire business environment that could potentially ignore environmental and social welfare of citizens in areas such as wages, health, training, workplace safety, and significant retirement packages? If we should accept and agree that the Ghanaian business environment is lacking in these qualities, what is the plan of Nana Akuffo Addo’s industrialization team with reference to eliminating these negative environmental factors that could potentially ruin the chances of Ghana’s foreign investment potential?
One can only hope that the required ground work is done.
Finally, with a public-private partnerships approach, a confluence of the aforementioned challenges will stand.
Now let’s go back to what I mentioned earlier about the causal factors of our failed factories. There is a cultural problem that is not conducive to running a sustained manufacturing sector. Integrity and national interest are trumped by individual greed to exploit whatever capacity of employment for self-serving needs. This cancer must be rooted out or else all industrialization undertakings will fail.
This very cancer that undercuts our national and individual work ethic, is what killed Ghana Airways, Ghana Sanyo and many of the industries Nkrumah built. For instance, Ghana Airways employees sold for profit the free and discounted tickets the airline gave them as perks. This would often result in situations where a Ghana Airways flight would often take off with its aircraft filled with mostly passengers who bought heavily discounted tickets, causing a gaping hole in the books of the airline. The shortfall in the company’s profits was a personal gain to the employees. Hence, the company’s consequent demise. If this practice had been circumvented, Ghana Airways would have continued to make profit and would still be in business today. Instead, workers were laid off and foreign airlines benefited from ticket sales from Ghanaian citizens. Even though I wish I could say this was an anomaly, this self-serving mindset and its resulting acts of dishonesty, sadly permeates EVERY sector in the country today.
The expansion of this exploitative scheme will be the unintended consequence of President Akuffo-Addo’s bold initiative, should the paradigm not be shifted.
Skilled labor would have to underpin this feat. We cannot pursue this goal without affordable employment and retraining programs. In my opinion, these should be free.
In spite of all these challenges, I remain optimistic about the future of Ghana under the current administration. The perfect should never be the enemy of the good.
Ultimately, the enormity of the task at hand should never be a deterrent to executing it.
May “God Bless Our Homeland, Ghana.”